One of my major frustrations in youth ministry is that not everyone on my ministry team “gets it.” They’re not always as excited about the things I’m excited about. And, they don’t always do the things that I think they should do…at times, they just don’t get it. Does that ever happen to you? I know it shouldn’t bother me…I’ve known this truth for many years…but it still bugs me. Last night at my leaders’ meeting I had to remind our leaders that we’re not chaperones. Youth workers are shepherds. This seems so basic. I hope they got it. Who knows?

In my youth ministry terminology, I view a chaperone as someone who “watches” students to make sure no one breaks anything at church events. Rather, a shepherd is one who takes an interest in students’ lives so when things break (like relationships, family, their heart, their faith, etc…) they’ll have a caring adult to turn to who knows them.

The biblical image of a shepherd is someone who cares for and has the best interest in mind for his sheep. The Bible gives us several images that relate care-taking to that of a shepherd.

In the Gospel of John (21:17), Jesus said, “If you love me, take care of my sheep.” In Psalm 23, we are told that the Lord is our shepherd. And because the LORD is a good, caring, loving shepherd, we can rest. The biblical shepherd is a protector and a provider, which translates into someone who loves.

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Shepherding students is a great picture of a youth worker who cares for students on a week-to-week basis with their best interest in mind. And, without careful attention…our sheep or our students can get lost. Here’s an e-mail I received from a student.

Hey Doug, it’s Jonathon. Just wanted to let you know that I won’t be attending Saddleback Church anymore. I stopped attending for a while hoping someone would have the heart to notice that I wasn’t there. But the people who said they were my friends never called me, not one of them…not even my small group leader. It took 4 months for someone to call me and say that they hadn’t seen me there. To tell you the truth, after four months I’d rather he not of called at all. It just hurts that for years the people there said they were my friends but they didn’t show it while I was gone. Now I go to a small church were people know if I’m not there.

This student’s shepherd lost focus of this sheep…and he went astray. Thank God he had enough spiritual interest in his own life that he plugged into another church. Most don’t and these kinds of letters breaks my heart. I wish I could say that I don’t see these types of letters, but I do. Not weekly, but more often than I’d like to.

I know Jonathon’s small group leader and he’s a great guy! He’s actually a pretty good youth worker, too. He just got distracted, too busy, and kept thinking, “Oh Jonathon is a regular, he’ll be back.” Unfortunately, he never returned. This youth ministry leader lost sight of the small things that are a big deal in youth ministry-staying in touch with students.

To me, that just seems like basic, simple, bottom line youth ministry. When you’ve connected with a few students-keep track of them, get in their life, that’s what youth workers do. I talk about it all the time. I remind leaders with e-mails. I ask about their small groups when I see them. But, some times they just don’t get it. It’s definitely not the majority of my leaders…but, even when it’s a few it stings like crazy and it’s very frustrating.

When I shared this with my leaders last night, one of my veteran youth workers reminded me of something that I knew too…and didn’t think about. She said, “Doug, you’ve got to realize that Jesus lived with his closest followers and there’s several New Testament examples of the disciples not getting it. They were often confused, they did the wrong things, and even after displays of divinity, they still doubted and wondered. They didn’t always get it either.” She was right. It was something I needed to hear.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it and yet they wound up being instruments to launch the early church and change the world. It’s a good reminder. All of your leaders and all of my leaders may not get it either, but they are making a difference and they’re changing the world. Instead of being frustrated, I need to be thankful that I don’t do youth ministry alone. I also need to hold up the mirror and take notice of the things I don’t get. Thankfully, even when we don’t get it, God does and he’s doing the impossible while we struggle to do the possible.

I’ve got a lot to learn…you too?

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